A guest post from Saj Devshi
I’ve wondered for a long time why online learning has never really picked as an alternative to teaching GCSEs, A level or University lectures as I have always thought it had the potential to be mainstream. Just to clarify I’m not talking about ‘distance learning’ which I see as distinctively different but online learning where students can either simply tune into a broadcasting classroom lesson or catch recorded lessons for that particular course from home rather than having to make the journey.
Forbes reported that the online learning market is set to be worth over $107 billion this year (2015) and it’s likely to continue to grow even more in the coming years. Currently one of the biggest learning providers is Lynda.com and it makes well over £100 million per year in revenue and it doesn’t even cater for educational courses as its primary focus. Educational institutions have never really taken online learning seriously but the fact that Lynda can be so successful despite the existence of free alternatives suggests there is a big market in the online learning space. For niche specific educational courses which target our current UK curricula and exam boards, it would be a no-brainer if someone could execute it in a way that makes it more user friendly. I think this in a nutshell is probably the biggest problem – the execution of it.
One of the major draws of learning from home is the flexibility it offers. Until recently I was a mature student myself that ended up learning at a local charity offering tuition in Leicester. The biggest issue I faced was trying to meet my responsibilities while also trying to find a college that could provide classes around a working person’s timetable. This is probably one of the biggest barriers mature students face. With online learning it provides the chance for more flexibility not just for adults but also youngsters who no doubt struggle to get up in the mornings too.
One of the other benefits I can see it offer is the ability to revisit old recorded lectures which in some cases may be better than being there in person. When I sat in class, unless my note taking was spot-on I tended to miss things however recording the lectures solves this problem. Students can revisit old lectures without having to frantically write everything or rely on other people’s notes and go over them until they grasp the concepts themselves.
When I was at school the internet was in its infancy and trying to provide video streams to people on capped internet plans and slow connections was never going to happen as the infrastructure simply wasn’t there. In 10 years, this has changed massively with the introduction of fibre optic cables and as big bandwidth hogs such as Netflix and Lovefilm show, the internet is no longer the tortoise it use to be. So the hardware and infrastructure has caught up but the biggest issue seems to now lie in the software and someone coming along to deliver it in a more elegant way. A good way of thinking about this is Facebook and all the previous iterations that came before it. You had Myspace and websites such as Hi5 which existed only less than 10 years ago as market leaders. They were good social networking websites. Unfortunately the thing that stopped them breaking out like Facebook was they were not great social networking websites. Facebook took everything that made them good and improved on them in every way providing a much more user-friendly experience to stay connected with each other. This I think is the biggest issue; there is nothing out there dynamic enough to provide online learning in a way that is user friendly but also flexible enough to stay on top of the changes that happen with the UK exam boards.
Having worked with students and adult learners teaching psychology on two popular revision websites Loopa and Gcsepsychology.com, we frequently post video content on our respective courses and they have been viewed over 150k times in the last year. This shows me there is a market for people who want to learn from home and gain assistance. The rise of YouTube and smart-phones and tablets makes it even easier for people to learn literally anywhere. Most students refer to revision websites as their main form of aid however most of the popular ones are not optimised for mobile or tablet viewing making them very unfriendly resolution wise.
Websites such as Khan academy are great for teaching general concepts for subjects such as mathematics as they teach you tools for working something out – where they fall down is the fact that they have nothing specific for the exam boards themselves where content and topic focus can change. Such topics (particularly social sciences) tend to change their areas of focus which would require frequent updating of resources to stay in line with specification changes. If online learning was to ever take off in any form this would be something that needs to be considered – content that is constantly updated and kept fresh to keep up to date with the specification changes as they occur. I say this as the UK is currently going through a major overhaul of its education system with A levels becoming linear again (as opposed to modular).
There is scope I think to bring education to people’s homes without costly distance learning providers and this could be another way the under-funded education sector could try and open up a new revenue stream. Combined with the opportunity for students to actually come in to the institution face to face should they have issues I think this is probably a major trick institutions are missing.
Saj Devshi teaches CBT at probation and A level and GCSE psychology to students in his spare time. He is also the author of popular revision resources used across the UK for schools and colleges. He writes for Tech.co, Huffington post and various other blogs on education. You can catch him on twitter @Sajdevshi